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Vanya

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All of the warning bells in Vanya's head were blaring like a church cathedral at the King's wedding. She was from Dathomir, after all, and she had seen plenty of Dark Side witches, predatory hermits, and the like to know where this was going to go. It was no coincidence that the lady was at the center of whatever Dark Side corruption infested this place.

You're the one at the heart of all this darkness, she said bluntly. Her eyes flicked around the lair, knowing that a woman like this was going to be strongest in her own home. It was the kind of place she didn't want to stay, and they would need to find a way to flush her out.

Of course, she couldn't say this audibly to Shaw.

She took a step forward, putting herself between Shaw and Auntie Elspeth. Her violet eyes were almost ablaze as she looked at the woman, suddenly understanding just how precarious their situation here was.

Her hand flicked back behind her a bit, hoping Shaw would see the signal to start backing out of the "building."

@throwitintothefire
 

Shaw Amaris

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"Darkness? What tommyrot!" Elspeth let out a laugh that echoed off the cavern walls. Ripples rolled across the dark pool at the back of the cave. "Someone forgot to drink their positivity potion this morning!" Boney hands, empty only seconds before, waved a honeyed draught at Vanya, candlelight reflected in every fleck of the golden liquid.

Unfortunately, Shaw was a seventeen year old boy. Not that he could blame it all on his age and his gender. Even for a seventeen year boy Shaw could be exceptionally oblivious. It was always anyone's guess, including Shaw's, if he would be able to pick up on non-verbal social cues or if they would go right over his head. Of course he noticed Warden Vanya flicking her hand behind her back, presumably so that Elspeth wouldn't see what she was doing.

Shaw's gaze followed her line of erratic pointing and, for the first time, noticed that same squirrel that they had chased perched atop a bookshelf behind them. It was just sitting there and staring at them. Still taunting him. Shaw glanced back at Warden Vanya and then back at the squirrel again. Did... she she want him to keep an eye on the squirrel while she dealt with Elspeth? He shot the warden a Don't worry I gotchu look.

Then he nonchalantly wandered over toward the bookshelf, playing it totally cool by rubbing the back of his neck and humming the tune to that song Elspeth had been singing. That squirrel wouldn't get away with anything, not with Shaw keeping an eye on it.

"You don't want to go outside, dearie!" Elspeth would say, as if she had read Vanya's thoughts. "You'll get all wet!" On cue both Jedi would hear raindrops falling. There had been sunlight moments earlier, when they had first entered the cave. Now there was a torrential downpour. @Phoenix
 

Vanya

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Shaw wasn't backing out of the cave, and Vanya's handwaving became more emphatic. Why wasn't he getting it?!

She heard the rain beginning to fall outside, and Vanya knew they were in a bad spot down here. She could feel ever muscle in her body beginning to tense, and she nearly reached for her lightsaber then and there.

A little rain never hurt anyone, she said. She started drawing the Essence into herself before her left hand shot upward and unleashed a flash of blinding light directly into the face of the hag, leaping back and moving over to literally grab Shaw and drag him toward the exit.

Let's go! she shouted. You know, there was always the chance Vanya was wrong. She wasn't wrong, but you know, there was the chance.

@throwitintothefire
 

Shaw Amaris

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"And ruin your lovely hair?" Elspeth yet resisted, taking another step toward Vanya. "Tut tut! You don't want to do that! You are a lovely young thing. Those eyes of yours remind me of when I was a pretty young—ACK!"

Light shot out of the young warden's hand and blinded the elderly woman. The last thing Shaw would see was her dark shawl abandoned on the floor of the cavern and the last thing he would hear was a string of curses as she stumbled backward into her cauldron before Warden Vanya grabbed ahold of him and drug him out.

Staggering out from the mouth of the cave and the shelter it provided, both Jedi would be soaked in a matter of seconds. Heavy rain drops beat against their skin and doused their clothing. A dark cloud laden with rain sat directly over them high up in the sky. If Vanya cast her gaze skyward she would notice that it was clear everywhere else, with not a storm cloud in sight, except for this patch of woods. Shaw didn't notice that because his gaze was cast downward, toward his feet. And not just because rain was running down his face and making it hard to see.

"Do... do you feel that?" he asked the older Jedi, glancing over at her. The ground beneath their feet was shaking. Rumbling almost, and the next moment Elspeth would emerge from the mouth of the cave. It had been the light that had washed away her illusion, not the rain, and she was no longer an unassuming old woman with a fresh pot of soup and a warm fire to recommend her.

Now she was her true self. A blue, warty skinned hag that stood over eight feet tall in spite of her hunch. Yellow eyes stared at the two Jedi from between strands of long, tangled hair, and she flashed them a wicked grin, teeth as black as the night and as sharp as daggers. A fallen log was flung their way. Just to get the fight started. @Phoenix
 

Vanya

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Vanya wanted to keep running and regroup, but she knew how forests like this were. There probably wasn't a safe place around here for a couple of miles that hadn't been warped and twisted by "Auntie." No, it was likely going to be a "stand and fight" situation whether she wanted it to be or not.

Still, at least they had vacated the actual building itself. Or rather the cave. That was where her power would have been most concentrated, and out here, the woman would have to deal with the spirits of nature that had long been quashed under this hag's darkness. Out here, there was the Light and it had not been entirely snuffed out.

Vanya's violet lightsaber burst to life in her hands, matching the near-glow in her violet eyes as she turned to stare down the hag.

Do you know how to commune with nature and animals? she asked Shaw, hoping the answer was "yes." If it wasn't, he was about to learn on the job. It's all a part of you. Of the Essence. Just draw on it, and pull it in to us. The forest itself wants to be rid of this rot, she said.

The rest... would be up to him to figure out. To draw in the plants, trees, and animals - yes, even the squirrels - to rid the forest itself of this beast. The Nightsisters were the immune system of Dathomir, and out here... the Jedi would recruit nature itself to root out the infection.

Vanya's lightsaber came down, slicing the log cleanly in two even as the Essence roiled down the blade in order to force the pieces of wood to the side around her. The Nightsister darted forward, bringing her saber up in a quick strike that would no doubt be deflected or evaded, but at this point, Vanya's only goal was to keep the monstrosity busy. It was up to Shaw and the Squirrels now. (New band name?)
 

Shaw Amaris

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Stumbling back and away from the mouth of the cave, Shaw's horrified brown eyes would dart from the giant crone looming over them to Warden Vanya, who was asking him if he knew how to commune with animals and nature. If he wasn't so painfully aware of his racing heartbeat and the hairs standing straight up along the back of his neck, he might have imagined this was a scout troop field trip or something. "What is that thing!?" he exclaimed. Elsepth, if that was even her real name, looked like something straight out of a fairy tale. And not one of the cloying, happily ever after fairy tales either. This was one of those fairy tales that parents told their kids to scare them into obedience.

"You should have listened!" the hag chided, wagging an elongated finger at them. Each fingernail was stained a sickly yellow, with dried blood and dirt caked beneath the long, sharp keratin that looked like it could rend clothing and flesh with a single stroke. She rolled her bulging, yellow eyes for emphasis. Even outside of her lair, away from the source of her power, she was cocky. Not even Vanya's impressive trick with the light had swayed her confidence. "Oh, well! Saves me the trouble of washing my dinner! Prewashed!" she cackled, evidently pleased with herself for that one. Shaw seriously doubted that that thing ever washed her food. But also GROSS. She wanted to eat them!

"Commune with the animals?" Shaw repeated, giving the warden a look. Shaw was the worst possible choice to 'commune with the animals.' Animals hated him, with two or three negative experiences for every positive. Sure, Shaw knew what the warden wanted him to do in theory. He had seen Prani do it. He had seen Elidan do it. But that didn't mean it would work. "Just so you know," he called out to the warden, "I'm not very good with animals!" Any animal. Not just squirrels.

But he still had his orders. The teenager took cover behind a large tree where he would hopefully be able to concentrate. He almost wished that Warden Vanya would let him deal with the hag instead while she attuned to nature. That was when he heard the hag crow, in between attacks, "I just love the skin in its salad days! So supple, so juicy!" His skin crawled. Okay. Maybe not.

Shaw took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and focused. Trying his best to block out the sounds of the fight in the background. Nature itself would begin to answer the call through the force, the living energy that bound all things together, but there was an unmistakable hesitation. The hag had been the corrupter and master of these woods for many years. She would sense it too, snarling at Vanya, "Trying to turn my my pretties against me? My pretties? MY WOODS?" @Phoenix

6/20
 

Vanya

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Vanya wasn't really listening to Shaw at this point. Not in a blatant attempt to be rude, but because her focus was now honed in on trying not to die. It was a tall order given what she was up against, but she had faced worse.

At least, she hoped she had. She'd faced Sith Masters and abominations. She'd faced infiltration of monstrosities in the minds of her companions, and she'd always come out the other side.

But even more than that, Vanya had other powers on her side. The Radiant energy of the Primal Spirits and the wild flame of the ur-Spirits. She knew techniques that most Jedi didn't, and she - more than nearly anyone else - was uniquely equipped to purge darkness like this.

Dukhi zemli i lesa, uslysh'te moi slova i ochistite etu opukhol, her voice boomed and echoed through the forest around them, and for a moment, Shaw would feel a wave of warmth wash over him, shoving back the cold of the rain and filling him with energy. It was like a hand reaching down to help him after he stumbled. Most notably, though, it wasn't Vanya's "hand" that helped him. It was someone or something that he couldn't see. Perhaps something from the forest. Somewhere in the distance, Shaw would feel that her heard a faint giggle but would see no one. Someone or something was here to help him.

This didn't seem to sit well with Granny who spun to look at her in rage, screeching and charging forward.

The distraction of whatever Vanya had just done caught her momentarily off guard and she almost missed her dodge, narrowly avoiding having her torso split in two as she dove to the side, losing her footing on a root and actually landing in the mud a moment later. Still, she was back on her feet only a moment later, still on the back foot as another swipe nearly took her head off.

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Shaw Amaris

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Something nearly tangible and yet wholly beyond Shaw's understanding reached out and touched him. It felt like a hand. Not his own. Not even Warden Vanya's. Just... a hand. Warmth seeped from its fingertips and spread throughout his entire body and drove away the cold. His heart froze and then pounded again with energy borrowed and renewed.

It felt like he had been allowed a glimpse into another world, into another dimension that he did not know nor did he belong in. He thought he heard a giggle. Saw a flash of red, but wherever he looked there was nothing. Just the forest staring back at him, and it did feel like it was staring back at him now. Like it had suddenly come alive after a long slumber. There had been a shift in the air, so marked that even Shaw could feel it. Where there had been hesitation, there was now resolution.

The wind had flared up, powerful gusts that shook branches and carried fallen leaves out of sight and nearly pushed Shaw stumbling into a nearby tree. The hag fought against it, still single minded in her pursuit of Vanya as her claws lashed out at the warden in a flurry of strikes and slices. Dark clouds hung overhead, and the forest had become so dim that only the hag's yellow eyes aflame and Vanya's violet lightsaber lit up the darkness.

There was a blinding flash of lightening followed by an ear splitting clap of thunder, and when the Jedi opened their eyes the hag no longer towered over Vanya. Roots and climbing plants had slunk around her elongated arms and legs and drug her to her knees in the mud. Another flash of lightening, and in its light the hag's twisted features writhed and struggled. "STOP IT! STOP IT!" Elspeth's sweet, imploring voice blended with that of the hag's croak before the forest was plunged into darkness again. There was a growl. A shriek. A snarl. It was a cacophony of different animal sounds, and for a second or two Shaw even thought he could hear voices—whispers, screams, and even crying—but he saw nothing. Saw no one.

One more flash of lightening and clap of thunder, and then the sounds stopped. Only the howl of the wind and the patter of falling rain drops. The hag was still kneeling in the mud, bound hand and foot, head slumped forward and wet, tangled hair falling down to cover her face. Poised for the killing blow. @Phoenix
 

Vanya

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Vanya wasn't the type to either hesitate or offer false mercy. Shaw had finally found the heart of the forest and his own balance, and it reflected as the hag was pulled back and down to the ground. When it had seemed darkest and she'd been close to being overwhelmed, help came.

Vanya didn't say a word or hesitate. There was no standing slowly over her enemy or gloating, just a single lightsaber blow downward, slashing the body of the hag in two.

In truth, Vanya doubted the "woman" was dead, but at least the threat was neutralized.

She dropped to her knees, letting her lightsaber flash out as the shake of adrenaline finished coursing through her. She felt... tired. More than she would have expected and she wasn't sure if it was some foul magic or something else that sapped her of her strength.

She waited until Shaw came nearer and looked up at him with a sober smile.

You did a good job, she said to him, not actually moving to get up yet and allowing herself a few moments of rest.

You feel okay? she asked, sure there was some sort of query or education she was supposed to be doing but not really knowing what that actually was.

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Shaw Amaris

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There was no time to plead. No time for the hag to try and talk her way or bargain her way out of the fate that awaited her at the end of Vanya's blade. A silver tongue and sleight of hand wouldn't do her any good now. Not even all the magic in the world could save her now. Vanya swung her saber downward, and the purple blade drew the hag's last breath and rent her in two.

The front half of her body slid forward into the disturbed pile of mud with a sickening plop, the lower half of her corpse still held in place by nature itself until the vines and roots that had held her captive gradually slunk away and returned to their natural place amongst the forest.

Shaw watched the whole thing in silence, heart in his throat as his chest rose and fell with every breath. The teenager approached the other Jedi, brown eyes never straying from Elspeth's corpse. Each limb and muscle somehow felt heavier than normal, threatening to drag him to his knees in the mud, but he remained upright and allowed his breathing to regulate. Whatever strength he had borrowed before, it was gone now. It was just Shaw left.

Warden Vanya's voice stirred his thoughts, and his gaze swiveled from the body in the mud to the Jedi responsible for its demise. He stared down at the older Jedi, eyes occupied by some combination of awe and bewilderment. That was her first thought? To compliment him and ask if he was alright? After everything that had just happened? Everything she had just done? It occurred to him that not many Jedi—not many people would do that. Especially when Shaw wasn't even sure he had actually contributed anything at all to the fight.

"Yeah. I'm fine," he cleared his throat, eyes flicking between the hag and the warden again. "You?" Then, unable to stop the compliment, "You really slayed. Like literally slayed." Not often that that could be said. He brought a shoe up to the hag's arm, nudging it, just to see if she moved. She didn't. "What... what just happened?" he asked the warden. @Phoenix
 

Vanya

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Vanya felt more exhausted with each passing moment, and she was thankful that the fight was at least over now. She wasn't sure how much more she would have had in her if things had been dragged out longer. Despite the hag being gone, she could still feel the darkness looming here. A light was trying to return, but it would be... slow.

I think I will be, she said. She was sure that as a Warden she was supposed to appear the pinnacle of unflappable and never appear run down or fatigued, but that just wasn't reality. She saw no point in setting people's expectations to be unrealistic. Life was hard and what they did as Jedi was - arguably - even harder.

He mentioned her slaying and her eyes fell down to the corpse. She was sure there were plenty of Jedi who would have sought out some nonlethal option or the like, but that just had never been her way. It felt almost wrong to not deal with the problem definitively. She was sure there were those in the Order who would have disagreed.

She motioned for him to take a seat as she hoisted herself up off of her knees and onto a tree trunk that looked like it had been knocked over in the chaos of the fight.

The Jedi are great at teaching about one aspect of the Force, she said, cautiously and almost hesitantly. There was a wealth of information that was frowned on by the rest of the Order and plenty more - like White Magic - that shouldn't be taught to Padawans. Even so, there was utility in having small inklings of it given to them so they were not naive to it.

But there are many other views about it and other facets that you aren't taught. You tapped into one of those facets. It's the same Force, but the balance here was wrong, she said, knowing she wasn't explaining this well. Knowing she was going to leave way more questions with her very poor explanation of the Spirits than she answered.

The forest itself is alive. You're taught to feel the tension between all things, but those things often have wills of their own, she said, looking over and expecting a blank look based on her terrible explanation. This was probably why she didn't have an apprentice...

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